Sunday, January 14, 2018

Museums & UN Sustainable Development Goals: I

"When we lift [up] our eyes from the present struggles -- politics, health crises, homelessness and hate -- and look around with a view to the larger world, what do we see?

More of the same."

Not only, this of course, but it is what draws our attention. That is what symptoms do: draw your attention; but they're not the problems. The world's on-the-surface struggles are rooted in poverty and inequality, lack of education and valued work, economic imbalances, and source scarcity, anxiety, and depletion.

That text is from The Value of History column on "Museums and the Paris Agreement" in History News written for the American Association for State and Local History (Autumn 2017, Vol 72, #4). In it I gave examples for ways history museums and historic sites can address 12 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development goals (SDGs). For any other type of museum I could prepare the same article with as much alignment with the SDGs, and an unlimited variety of ways to do that good work.

For 2018 this blog space will include examination of the ways science centers, art museums, zoos, aquariums, museums and historic sites can support the SDGs. I'll start here with historic site and museum examples, but I hope you will offer your own ideas and examples. Together we can make it easier for our peers to join us in #museumsforparis. Together we can show the world that #wearestillin.

SDG#1 No Poverty (End poverty in all its forms everywhere)

Historic sites that were settlement houses, such as Jane Addams' Hull-House Museum or the House of the Seven Gables, provide programming that examine homelessness, poverty, and the need for social networks to support community members, and inspire people to personal and collective action.

These issues are not so far from each of us or our neighbors, and they are common for so many outside our own worlds. A divorce or a job loss, a serious injury or illness, a natural disaster, or an act of terrorism can upend a life, a family, and communities. How can we help ourselves or others if we do not understand these issues, learn to process them, and determine how to respond? We can come to understand these issues and ourselves, and what we can do to create change, through the work of historic sites. The House of the Seven Gables envisions this as "Unbounded, Magnified Good."

SDGs #6, #11, and #15 Clean Water & Sanitation, Sustainable Cities &Communities, and Life on Land
If we tallied museums' and historic sites' landscapes (water and land, garden and yards), and all the hard surfaces (roofs, parking lots, walkways, patios), think of all the surface area we have to turn to environmental advantage! Historic sites often have more impact here than many other types of museums. Farm landscape can be managed organically; historic energy and water systems (fish ponds, water turbines, windmills) can be restored and operated to reduce impact, and you can restore historic habitats for native species and natural services lost to urban development. Historic sites have tremendous opportunity to support their missions and SDGs at the same time.
  • Is water runoff from your site clean? 
    • Does it tax municipal treatment systems or put neighbors or downstream residents at risk? 
    • What could you do to make sure all water leaves your property cleaner than when it arrived? 
  • Does your site make your city more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable? 
    • Do you have a green roof or walls that keeps the community cooler, creates habitat for species, and saves energy while providing visual and emotional benefits? 
    • Is your garden space or central atrium or whole site programmed and accessible to appeal to all, and encourage inclusion?
  • How about biodiversity?
    • Does your property contribute to biodiversity? 
    • Does your programming or research? 
  • Can you convert that hardscape into greenscape? 
    • When you have to repave that parking lot, is it the opportunity you need to install a permeable system to reduce stormwater management construction and processing?
    • Or can you create a catchment system to create habitat while avoiding stormwater management construction and processing? 

This work is far easier than it appears. It aligns with much of what we already do. It requires no mission creep, no extra money, no change in programming. You could do all that, but you don't need to. 

All it requires is thinking intentionally about how our institutions support the common good - oh wait, that's what we do every day, we just didn't see before how it aligns with the global good. 

Now we do. Contact me, please. Join #museumsforparis 

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